Competition heating up for Spartans linebacker spots

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — With scrimmage No. 2 of camp Saturday, there remains plenty of attention on Michigan State’s outside linebackers.

The strong side (money) became a battle to find a starter when fifth-year senior Ed Davis was lost for the season. Nearly two full weeks into camp, sophomore Chris Frey remains the leader to replace Davis.

“Chris Frey is doing a better job,” junior middle linebacker Riley Bullough said. “He’s out there being more vocal, being physical, playing fast.”

Frey is in a tightly contested battle with sophomore Jon Reschke, who has moved over from the middle, and sophomore transfer Drake Martinez, who spent the first week of camp as the weak-side outside linebacker (star).

True freshman Tyriq Thompson, who enrolled early last spring, is also getting a look on the strong side.

“The challenge has been for the new guys,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. “Drake and Tyriq have some learning to do. The other guys know it’s who finishes best, who finishes plays best.”

While the strong-side linebacker battle has been garnering most of the attention, the No. 2 on the other side is starting to become as intriguing. Fifth-year senior Darien Harris is solidly the starter, but true freshman Andrew Dowell has been impressive.

Bullough said Dowell has had growing pains typical of a freshman, but has the tools to see the field right away.

“If a guy comes in and plays fast and plays physical, they’re gonna try to get him in the game,” Bullough said. “So right now they’re trying to get him some reps, get him on special teams … anywhere we can put him.”

It’s not often a true freshman gets significant time at linebacker, but Dowell reminds Tressel of a pair of recent Michigan State linebackers who played in their first seasons — Greg Jones in 2007 and Taiwan Jones in 2011.

And it is Greg Jones, who started on the outside as a freshman before becoming an All-American in the middle, Tressel thinks of most when watching Dowell.

“(Dowell) actually has a lot more football awareness,” Tressel said. “He just has a sense of where to be on the football field, how to find the football, even through the mess.

“He’s instinctive as a linebacker. And some guys, it takes a long time to get instinctive against this level of offensive line. So he comes in looking like he’s played the position for years and years.”

Injury report

Dantonio said injuries to offensive lineman Kodi Kieler and defensive lineman Lawrence Thomas, reported by the Big Ten Network, were minor.

“I would talk about it if they were out for the game on the Friday before the game,” he said. “They are not out for the games.”

Thomas, who was wearing a brace on his elbow and was full-go for Thursday’s practice, said he practiced early this week but avoided some contact drills as a precaution.

“I was out there hitting it hard today,” he said.

... Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Enoch Smith Jr. is recovering from hernia surgery, but Dantonio said “he’ll be active here within the next couple days.”

Extra points

Junior running back Delton Williams, who returned from suspension last Friday, is back in full pads and putting himself in the middle of the competition to become the No. 1 tailback.

“He’s knocking the rust off a little bit,” Dantonio said. “He’s jumped back in there. Very good attitude and it’s great to have him back, see him out there. ... He’s right there with the other ones.”

... The “SiriusXM College Football Camp Tour” visits Michigan State today, with the broadcast airing from 7-9 tonight. Former NFL GM and Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage and SiriusXM’s Mark Packer will host the show.